Starter Memorandum Tool

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Get Over Your Ego

There is more to making a film than being creative.

Yeah, those may seem like fighting words, but such true words are rarely spoken. Don’t get me wrong, creativity is at the heart of the film business. Even the most derivative, seemingly-uninspired work has more creativity in it than most 9 to 5 jobs. But all the creativity in the world will not make a successful business. It’s a great foundation, but kind of like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest… he’s going to fall down unless he has a partner holding him up.

I have been working with creatives for decades and many, I almost dared to say most, have difficulty setting aside their creative hat for the requirements of running a business. Which is fine if they will admit that they need help and partner up with a strong, business-minded individual. You know: a producer.

Sam Raimi teamed up with Rob Tapert. Now both produce, but Sam initially stayed more in the creative chair and Rob more in the business side of things.

Eli Roth’s breakout was Cabin Fever, but it wouldn’t have broken out without a great producing partnership with Evan Astrowsky.

And there are more examples. Don’t get me wrong, both crossed over, but they specialized where they were best suited. Sam and Eli have even gone on to produce projects that they don’t direct.

And I’m not talking about on set. I’ve been working with many first or near first time film makers that are trying to get their projects off the ground. These film makers through their creativity and vision have even been able to find people that are willing to help financially to get the film makers’ projects off the ground. That doesn’t mean, though, that they are willing to just throw their money away… and that’s where these creative individuals stumble and, often, fall down.

The money to their next creative project is dangling right in front of them but they don’t know how to put together a business to show that the money will not only be well spent, but returned to the financial partners. Honestly, who has $100,000 USD just sitting there to be flushed let alone one million? Multi-millionaires didn’t get that way by just throwing good money out the window.

So team up with someone that can talk intelligently about the numbers, the business, the sales, and the return. That knows how to deal with taxes, lawyers, payroll, distributors and all the little minutia that get in the way of you being creative.

I was recently told, “But they are investing in me so I need to know this stuff,” literally a day before they were sitting down with money people. I tried to explain that you couldn’t just teach them the words in a few hours. No script could be written that would cover a face to face meeting with unpredictable Q&A. That a real investor will know you are faking it and get turned off. I explained that their potential financial partners are investing in the film maker’s vision and creativity and will fully understand someone else on the team helping with the financial and business side of things. Heck, qualified investors hire accountants and lawyers for that too.

So, get over your ego.

The biggest part of being a film maker is surrounding yourself with people that know more than you do, and that includes the business.

“Don’t chase the paper- chase the dream” — P. Diddy

“Don’t chase the paper- chase the dream.”

The quote is by Sean Combs (P. Diddy, Puff Daddy) to Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known by his stage name The Notorious B.I.G, in the movie “Notorious.”

I’m guilty.

I had a project, that was getting a lot of press.  I had spent tons of my time working on drumming up the hype and chasing the money and I lost sight of the dream. A mentor of mine has told me repeatedly over the years, and so I reminded myself (and sharing the quote with you): “Set a date and move forward. The money will come. It always comes.”

I took this advice on my first feature, and she was right. It all worked out. People saw my dream unfolding an wanted to be a part of it. It worked on my second feature too. Somewhere between then and now, even with the other feature films I have produced, I forgot her advice and have spent too much time chasing the paper.

Don’t get me wrong. The job of the producer, or at least one big job, is to raise the capital to make sure that the dream can be realized, but more than that it is to create the passion and drive the team forward in spite of all the business headaches with which you are dealing. Always remember:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy, ‘Ode’ (1874)

So here’s to the movers and shakers, the dreamers of dreams, the writers, film makers, and creatives making things happen. Get out there and chase the dream. Let others see your passion and your successes will follow.

Writing Progressive Dialog

I have a project.

I acquired the script a few years back and I dug it back up. I had fallen in love with the story but, for one reason or another, it got shelved in the creative process.

As I started reading the most recent draft of this project that I had been so passionate about I started to think… “YUCK!” So I stopped and wondered why I had thought it so right before and so bad now.

I broke it all down and took the emotion out of it.

  • The beats were still there.
  • The story was unique and fun.
  • The characters were true individuals with their own voice.
  • The dialog?

OMG! (That’s my inner school girl talking).

It was horrendous. It was so bad, so on the nose, that if I didn’t personally love the version that I had in mind (skewed as it obviously was) I would have tossed this sucker in the trash.

So I pulled up my emails and story notes. What had I been thinking?

All my notes were about story elements, character development, beats… and then I saw it: “We’ll work on dialog with the next pass.

Whew, at least I wasn’t an idiot back then and just didn’t notice it. I had known the dialog was horrible, but my memories weren’t as 20/20.

Fixing dialog is considered part of the polish… and something that is not necessarily worthy of a screenwriting credit. More precisely, it gets left up to arbitration. According to the WGA Screen Credit Policy:

For example, there have been instances in which every line of dialogue has been changed and still the arbiters have found no significant change in the screenplay as a whole. On the other hand, there have been instances where far fewer changes in dialogue have made a significant contribution to the screenplay as a whole.

Story is key, words are extra. Although the words coming out of the actors mouths can pull you right out of the film. So why is this?

Well, if you’ve ever been on a movie set, the words spoken are changed constantly. Sometimes by the actor. Sometimes by the director. Suggestions fly, especially when something is not working. Actors ad lib with what feels right. Its a creative process.

But that’s no excuse for BAD DIALOG.

Good dialog needs:

A good use of metaphor, insinuation, hints, sarcasm, allusion… you know, the way people actually communicate with each other. The word is a “that’s what she said” joke waiting to happen.

No Exposition!
Listen to conversations between people. Even when they are talking about their day the words don’t tell the story, they are the story. In a movie, that’s even worse. We can WATCH what’s happening, so don’t tell me.

Or, in this case, lack of grammar. People do not speak grammatically correct unless they are teaching a class on proper use of grammar. People use short cuts, implications, hints… yeah, subtext. So don’t spell it out.

And a whole lot more.

Best way to write good dialog? Go hang out in public places and eavesdrop.  Really LISTEN, to people’s conversations. Friends speak differently than strangers. Lovers speak differently than enemies. Different age ranges communicate differently within their cohort than with people that are not.

I guess I have a lot of notes to still give.

What is this Chain of Title of which you speak?

Great question and there tends to be some confusion among first time film makers about Chain of Title so don’t feel bad for asking the question.

To put it simply, Chain of Title is the complete set of documents that establishes a persons (and companies are people too) right to take action with respect to a piece of property, in our discussion the property is a film, but can be anything including a passel of land, a building, an automobile, etc.  With any property the chain runs from the present owner back to the original owner of the property in question.

In entertainment, this means a whole slew of documents that establish that a producer/production company owns/controls the right to produce a whatever it is they are trying to create/sell.

The chain of title typically consists of a series of rights agreements between the creators of works on which the production will be based or assembled to create the final product.  OK, that wasn’t so simple, but this list will give you an idea:

  • Copyright registration certificate for any underlying material (ie, the screenplay)
  • Option for right to adapt any underlying work(s) (Stageplay, song, screenplay, life-story rights, etc.)
    • Yes, that means just because you read a book or play that you can’t adapt if for film without permission.  Heck, just because someone is dead still doesn’t give you a clearance to produce their life story.
  • Agreements with anyone (the writer or composer or lyricist or other contributors) hired to adapt the source material
  • Agreements with any additional writers hired to do re-writes, etc.
  • Certificates of authorship from any of those writers
  • Documentation on any option agreements
    • Evidence documenting that the option on the material was properly extended before its expiration
    • Evidence that the option was properly exercised before its expiration.
    • Documents transferring or assigning the rights granted under the option to the producing entity
  • Contracts with creative and production personnel stating that their work-product has been created as a “work-made-for-hire” and therefore belongs to the producer.  Strangely enough, this includes you, the producer.
  • Contracts with performers authorizing the use of their names, likenesses, biographies, etc., in connection with the exploitation of the project.
  • Releases for stock footage used
  • Releases for photographs or artwork used
  • Releases for props used
  • Releases for locations films
  • Releases for any music used in the scoring of the production
  • Crowd/Extra release forms
  • Trademark Clearances for any trademarks used in the film

…and the list can go on, but you get the idea.

A film is an assemblage of many things and you have to prove that you have the right to use ALL OF IT in your film.  Yes, even if you wrote the screenplay yourself.  It may sound silly, but you even need to transfer the rights of the screenplay you wrote to yourself as the producer/production company to have a clean chain of title.

Film distributors won’t agree to distribute a film without complete documentation.  They don’t want to risk getting sued because you used something in your film you didn’t have permission to use.

It’s best to start as early as possible documenting the chain of title.  No one likes to pop-out a release form or go all business-like when they are developing the idea for a production, but, trust me, it gets much more messy and difficult to try and do it later.  When you complete an outline, treatment, screenplay, etc, keep records and register your copyrights.  If you are working with someone else, PLEASE, have a written agreement that details your relationship and addresses ownership of the project.  Great projects have been lost to a fallout between friends and no formal terms on what happens to the work itself.

Oh, and nothing verbal.  It all needs to be in writing.  Its to everyone’s benefit… and you can’t put a verbal agreement in a file.

Yes, ultimately, the chain of title is a big folder containing copies of each and every document we just discussed… in chronological order.  And this documentation will be needed everytime that the project is sold or transferred to someone else.

Now the big question: Do you need an entertainment attorney to do all this for you?  Absolutely not.  You just need to be good at paperwork and organization, or have someone working for you that is.  That doesn’t mean you might not need one to handle certain steps along the journey.  Only a fool has himself for a client.


The Business of My Film – a Hands-on Workshop from I Gotta Do What?!!


I Gotta Do What?!! provides a comprehensive set of tools for filmmakers to navigate the creation, financing, producing, and distribution of their films… Answers to getting your films made, seen, and sold worldwide.

We’re starting our first interactive workshop to help you be successful with your feature film. Maybe you have a great script you want to take the reins on and drive to success or maybe you’ve done this before, but need some help in taking it all to the next level. No matter what, the first of three sessions on the business of your film is now accepting enrollment.

Note: These workshops are being held in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  If you want us to bring these courses to another town, please contact us here.


Session 1 (4 weeks for only $200) will encompass development of your project with the goal to have a complete package suitable for helping you raise the funding for your film. In this hands-on workshop you will learn about:

  • Definition, Duties, and Responsibilities of being a Producerhands-on_workshop
  • Relationship of Producer with all Talent, Craftsmen, and Departments
  • Establishing your Production Company
  • Finding / Creating that great script
  • Breaking down and creating your shooting schedule.
  • Creating your Film’s Budget
  • Writing/Creating Business Plan
  • Basic Understanding of Legal Procedure and Legal Agreements
  • Introduction to Copyright & Trademark for Business
  • Movie Income and other Revenue Sources
  • Movie Business Risk Factors
  • Raising Funding / Finding Investors
  • Introduction Crowdfunding
  • Joint Venture or Co-Production/Co-Producing

You will receive, in addition to hands-on training in a group environment, a free life-time membership to (a $125 value), business plan templates, union rate books, budgeting templates, and a start on the road to your feature film.

Coming Soon
Session 2 (4 weeks; $200) will encompass preproduction and production. We can’t possibly teach you all aspects of production, but we will teach you how to surround yourself with skilled persons to get the job done.

Coming Soon
Session 3 (4 weeks; $200) will focus on post production, sales, and delivery of your film. Don’t worry if you haven’t shot your film yet. We are going to focus on the business aspects that you will need to know before you get to this point to make yourself successful.


How do I sell my movie to Netflix or iTunes

Scott Conditt asked: What is your general opinion on the new school independent VOD distribution method versus going to market with your films the traditional distributor route?

Good question, but there are a ton of them out there.  Further questioning he was specifically getting at Netflix and iTunes.  So let’s start there.

iTunes.  iTunes is a great platform and you get a nice piece of the download pie, BUT you can’t currently do it yourself.  Well, you can if you meet their requirements to open your own store.  But the first requirement is (at the time of this posting) “5 feature-length movies or documentaries that were released theatrically (or) 100 feature-length movies or documentaries that were either released theatrically or direct-to-video.”  That rules out most independent film makers.  That doesn’t rule out iTunes, though, just means you will have to go through an aggregator.  An aggregator IS NOT a distributor.  Some aggregators will charge you a fee up front and you make 100% of the take.  Others will take a percentage of the sale price instead.  Some will be a combination of both.  If you think your film is going to sell thousands of downloads at $3 to $5 than paying $1000 to $3000 prep fee might be worth it.  Be realistic and shop around.

There are a slew of iTunes aggregators popping up everywhere.  There are even more out there advertising than on the official list by Apple.  That might mean they are really a distributor that is going through one of the official aggregators, so ask if they aren’t on the official list. Buyer beware.  Do some math.  Run the numbers.  Be realistic and see what happens.

Netflix.  Netflix has been the friend and holy grail of indies for years.  It was a big notch in your belt to say your movie was on Netflix.  So much so that film makers didn’t pay attention to the terms of their deals.  Now, these deals were RARELY with Netflix directly.  It was a sales agent, distributor or aggregator that then licensed to Netflix.  Just like iTunes, its pretty much the only way you are getting your movie on Netflix these days.  Unlike iTunes, its a flat fee, no a pay per view licensing structure.  That means, you get a set amount of money and in return grant a two year license to Netflix to stream your movie online.  Usually this is non-exclusives (meaning you can stream on multiple services).

You’ll read stories about how people only got $1000 for their two year license.  Now, I don’t know the terms of every deal and how it was structured, but have been involved with quite a few Netflix streaming deals.  My guess is those $1000 license fees were 10x (or more) higher, but because of the contract with their sales agent, distributor, or aggregator, that money was allocated to other fees and percentages.

There are also other online streaming services out there.  Most of those are a platform solution but you’ll make money based on how much traffic you drive to your movie.  Its all in the marketing and most of the time that’s completely up to you.  They don’t offer much in terms of promoting your film.  So, as I said above, run the numbers.  I’m going to say, in most cases, if they are just taking a percentage, its worth the chance, but you can’t drive content everywhere, so, again, just run the numbers.


Dreamers and Deceivers or how not to raise money for my film

Raising money is always the hardest part of getting your film project off the ground… at least until it isn’t.  To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”  You must be able to recognize the dreamers and deceivers, the ones who will at the very least waste your time chasing rainbows and possibly go after what legitimate money you have already raised.  Here are a few practices for recognizing these losers and cheats.

Dreamers? Oh yeah, you’ll probably run into more of these than the crooks.  These are the pitiable people who really truly believe that they can raise all the money in the world.  These folks are more difficult to discover early on because they don’t ask for any money up front.  I’ve spent far too much time with guys like this because I kept saying to myself, “Well, they haven’t asked for anything yet” and “they are only taking my time, not my money,” but I’m here to tell you that that is almost as bad.

They are taking up much of your valuable time, time you could spend working with real professionals.  These useless folks are motivated by subtler basic needs.  They want to be “players”.  They list the feeling of power and hanging out with the pretty people (or pretending to).  They like doing lunch… and they LOVE to waste your time with conference calls, emails, and paperwork.  Here’s some quick identifying characteristics:

  • When the topic comes to specifics they have a deer-in-the-headlights look, or they dance around the topic with big words with no substance.
  • Demand references.  Ask for details on any deals they have closed.  Check up on them.
  • Ask them about any of their supposed sources of capital and insist on having written proof that the money is real.  That means back accounts, commitment letters, proof of funds reports… and verify them.  It may seem brutish or uncouth, but it must be done sooner or later.
  • Google ‘em.  Bing ‘em.  Search for any articles on them.  That means clicking on the “news” link at the top of the search results page, not just the web detail.  That will search news databases.  If it comes back with nothing, that will tell you everything.  If it comes back with bad things, please skip to the next section.  Either way you are forewarned.
  • Ask for a resume, CV, or history.  Look them up on Linkedin and use that.  Then verify it.  Don’t take their word for it.

The frauds (deceivers) are not nearly as widespread but are far more treacherous.  They are scam artists and they are out to rip you off.  They usually have perfected their act and come off very professional.  You can usually spot them, though, because their schemes generally boil down to “give me money now and I’ll give you more money later.”  When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Sometimes they are subtle and are just requesting compensation for expenses or as elaborate as a request for thousands of dollars (or even a million) placed into an alleged escrow account so that they can release millions of more dollars.

OK, so how do you protect yourself from the professional deceiver?  Here are a few steps:

  • First, do all the things listed for dreamers.  While they usually won’t have the deer-in-the-headlights look, they are practiced and accomplished afterall, the other steps work just as well.  That said, these are pros, they will have some aces in the hole prepped for you.
  • Check for court cases against them in the state and federal courts where they reside as well as in California and New York.  Search engines are good for this to start with, but nothing works better than just going downtown and doing a check.

The one thing both of these groups have in common is that their capital raising schemes usually involve an elaborate proposal.  Something like Company A will post collateral to Company B who will issue a letter of credit to… who will loan money to… Anyone with half a head in business will ask why the beginning and end don’t just get together and cut out all the middle men.  The answer? “It’s not done that way.”  Frankly, if you told any plan that involves two or more of the following words, just run: “back guaranty”, “letter of credit”, “escrow”, “foreign bank”… oh, and it never hurts to just pick up the phone and call.  Not the number they give you.  Look up the number for the financial institution or partner and just plain call.  I’ve shut down more than one broker working with a foreign investor just by finding the person on the other end and verifying.

Remember, until the check clears or the wire has completed, it’s not a deal.  Don’t bank on it and don’t accept the words “trust me.”

Sorry for all the doom and gloom, but being forewarned and alert is better than getting the shaft.  Oh, and Han shot first!


Blockbuster a Bust, DVD Dead?


November 6, 2013 was the first day of the American Film Market for 2013 and on that day Dish Network announced that DVD is dead.

Really all they did was announce that they were closing all their corporate retail stores.  The franchised stores will remain open under the Blockbuster brand (at least until the licensing agreement for those franchise stores runs out).  They are also closing the doors on their DVD by mail operations this December.  They are going to continue offering their Blockbuster On-Demand video streaming service (20,000 or so titles) and Blockbuster Home service for Dish subscribers (basically low-tier pay TV).

“This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment,” Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement. “Despite our closing of the physical distribution elements of the business, we continue to see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings.”

If you’ve followed the industry at all you can’t say this writing wasn’t on the wall.  DVD sales have been drying up for the better part of a decade.  Doom and gloom has been being preached about the death of DVD for more than 10 years, but this info graphic will show you when the fall began.  In one year sales of DVD dropped by a third and then continued to fall.historyofdvdYes, those numbers are in BILLIONS (sales figures provided by “The Numbers“).  In 2008 Netflix started offering its streaming service and by the end of that year sales dropped through the floor.  By the way, that year held some huge DVD sales titles.  Three family titles (Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E, and Alvin and the Chipmunks) as well as Iron Man and The Dark Knight.  Heck, the blockbuster juggernaut, Avatar, released on DVD in 2010 and you’ll notice that sales dropped off almost $1B that year as well.

Streaming is the new frontier, but Netflix licensing deals aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  A low budget, no name, indie license to Netflix streaming for two years is approximately the same as four to five thousand units of DVD sales.  Well, I’m hear to tell you that 4-5K DVD units is A LOT.  No, that’s not $20 per unit retail, that’s the wholesale price (what you are actually getting as the producer).  So, honestly, its an equivalent trade.  The problem is that people banked on both of these windows and now, there’s really just one.

Is the DVD dead?  Absolutely not.  Not even in the United States where blockbuster just closed its doors.  The fact is that internet bandwidth just isn’t good enough yet and not proliferate enough to kill the DVD… but its getting there.  Five years from now will probably mark the official death of the DVD, but by then the market will have figured out how to make money elsewhere.

Netflix is only ONE of many streaming options, albeit the big boy on the block.  I’m sure there will be more offerings in the streaming world as bandwidth availability grows and more and more people become technically savy so that hooking up a streaming device in your home to your big screen TV becomes second nature.  We’re still at the equivalent stage of streaming as we were in the 80’s when kids had to set the clocks on their parent’s VCRs.  In the long run it will pay off even better as more and more opportunities for sales rise in this streaming window.

Also, the streaming window is way down the line from theatrical, VOD, and DVD releases… but there is already a lobbying effort to change that.  Netflix just recently announced it was going to start producing its own films for day and date release on streaming and theatrical.  It’s not a new concept but it had been theatrical and VOD day/date that was the controversy.  If Netflix has its way the concept of release windows may just be thrown out one.  That will make premiums on some windows less, but increase the premiums of others… and to me that screams sellers market (if the content is worthy that is).

Death of DVD? Maybe.  Rebirth of an industry? Definitely.